Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Stephenie Meyer created it all; I just like to play around in her world.
Honor was my entry into the Meet the Mate contest. I am so very honored to have received the "Most Swoon-Worthy Character" award for my Edward. It was an AMAZING contest with lots of good entries, and I truly thank all the moderators, banner makers, and other participants for their hard work. Special thanks to tinie432 who made me a banner for the story, and whichever banner maker did the one for the contest!
When I posted the story for the contest, I realized immediately that I'd sent the next to last edit after being told by my consultant to change Bella's rank from Captain to Major. UNFORTUNATELY, when I sent the entry, I sent the one that hadn't fully been changed. Face Palm. Hence, my total astonishment to receive any award. In addition, I received many comments about things in the story that individuals thought were inaccurate. The use of a white shirt under dress blues, the use of the word soldier instead of airman, allowing Bella to use the term Ooh Rah instead of Aim High (the Air Force rally call).
To those that commented/reviewed please know it was never my intention to bring disrespect to the Air Force or Airmen/women. So I appreciate (truly) you taking time to reference things you felt needed to be changed to make the story more accurate. In explanation I would like to add, I can only say that I was told by someone in high authority that a long sleeve white shirt was an acceptable dress option for dress blues (the flats that Bella wears aren't – but were what I can up with for an injured airwoman). As for the use of Airman versus soldier, I didn't think that many civilians would be as familiar with the term, so I went with soldier instead. I've changed that for this version (except for when Edward, a civilian, references an military individual). And as for the Ooh Rah, I was certain that not many would be familiar with Aim High. My consultant indicated it would be okay to use Ooh Rah in a room of mixed branches of service, but now that I can put a brief explanation, I've changed the ending to reflect the proper usage.
If, as an active or retired member of the services or family member, you see any other mistakes, please let me know. I say this because the integrity of this story is very important to me. Here is why - this story is dedicated to some very important people to me.
My brother, Philip, who has served almost 40 years in the United States Air Force. Bubba, thank you for always being there for me personally and for the many countless years of unselfish service in keeping my family and country safe. The Air Force will lose a great leader when you finally decide to hang up the hat.
My niece, Rebecca, who is following in her father's footsteps.
My father, C.M., who served in War War II in the Navy. The war stories I heard made my blood run cold, but made me proud to be called your daughter (Yes, I was an OOPS baby – and I won't tell you how old my dad was when I was born!). My uncles and aunts who also served in War War II in the Army and Marines.
Those families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and those who lost their lives serving as responders and heros that day. I will never forget seeing videos of the plane hitting the Pentagon and knowing my brother was inside . . . or those hours wondering if he was alive or dead.
Mr. and Mrs. Cullen,It is with great regret I must inform you that your son, Second Lieutenant James Hunter Cullen, is considered missing in action. His plane was reported shot down over Afghanistan. Search efforts have been initiated . . .
Of course, there had been more to the letter - the appropriate praises and the assurance that all resources would be utilized to continue looking for Jamie until he was found. But while those promises served as a thread of human hope for Edward's family, the well-worn letter remained in a place of honor on his mother's kitchen countertop. It sat right beside the tattered bible she read from every morning over coffee where she implored a power higher than humans to give peace to her family, to bring Jamie home in some way.
Edward could quote the entire letter. He'd read it a hundred times, but it was those three sentences he recited in the darkest of hours. Jamie was his baby brother by many years. An "Oops Baby," Edward, Emmett, and Jasper always liked to tease their mother and father. It was no secret the Devil-May-Care Jamie had been conceived on a second honeymoon; one his parents had planned to celebrate surviving ten years of parenting three headstrong, rambunctious, and energetic boys. Emmett had been twelve when Jamie was born. Jasper was eleven. He and Emmett were Irish twins. Edward had been nine, just about to turn ten, when his father placed a squalling blue eyed baby in his arms and introduced him as James. But although the difference in their ages could have led to a distance between them, the three older Cullen boys had taken Jamie under their wings and molded him into a hellion . . . a hellion who had thought nothing of applying to the Air Force Academy and graduating with honors to go on to be a combat pilot. Afghanistan and the war had been his next great adventure . . . until the day his plane had been shot down and he'd disappeared from their lives in the same blaze of glory in which he'd arrived.
Laughter from the pool area reoriented Edward, making him aware he'd been gone too long from the party. Alice and Rose, Jasper's and Emmett's wives, would come looking for him soon if he didn't return. They'd brought friends hoping to play matchmaker, but Edward was doing all he could to avoid the possibility. He'd just secured a position at the University of Washington's Medical Center as a trauma surgeon, joining his hero - his father. After years of giving up everything to gain an internship that he could turn into a gold ticket, Edward wasn't ready to be forced into finding his mate, as his brothers and father like to call their wives, no matter what his mother and sister-in-laws thought. He'd had relationships, ways of satisfying the itch of a healthy male, but nothing to carry home. He had faith he'd meet the right one when the time was right, and he was in no hurry, regardless of how much his mother might want that time to be now.
Maybe when Jamie came home Edward would get his brother to set him up. Jamie always had a knack for finding the best women, ones you could trust, like, and lust over all at the same time.
After smoothing the tear stained letter against the cool marble of his mother's countertops, Edward moved to join the party, grabbing the fruit bowl and chips he'd been sent to retrieve. He'd gone only a few steps when the doorbell rang, diverting him from returning to the Fourth of July celebrations. Hoping beyond hope it wasn't another cute blonde invited by Rose, Edward set the food down to serve as the family's greeter.
No. Was the only word he could think when he opened the door to find the two men in dress blue uniforms, their hats placed upon their heads with military precision, white gloved hands stiffly at their sides.
Mr. and Mrs. Cullen,
James was not only a good pilot but an outstanding Air Force officer. As his commander, I can assure you I've never met a finer man. Although it will bring you little comfort, I would like you to know that I considered him not only my airman, but my friend . . .
Major I. Swan
United States Air Force
Major Swan's letter had been more comfort to the family than the commander could realize. Although, just like the original letter from the Air Force, Edward latched on to just three sentences to recite in the darkest hours. The Cullens had been given only small pieces of information when Jamie went missing, but upon the confirmation of his death, more of the story had been divulged. Jamie had been flying with his squadron of F-15 Eagle fighters on a routine mission when they'd fallen under enemy fire. Major Swan had attempted to divert the attack, but had been hit attempting to help Jamie. Both had gone down and had been considered missing in action, although the Cullens hadn't known a family so close to them, only a couple of hours away in a small town named Forks, had been suffering the same fate as theirs . . . waiting.
A group of Marines, looking for gun caches, had uncovered far more than the weapons. In a small dark hole in the ground, they'd found Major Swan along with Edward's dead brother. How long Jamie had been dead the authorities wouldn't say, but Edward wondered what horrors the major must have experienced during that time. All the family knew was that Major Swan had been taken to Germany to be treated for injuries. Edward suspected Post Traumatic Stress as well.
Now, almost six months later, the Cullen family prepared to bury Jamie's ashes. It had been a collective decision. Christmas was Jamie's favorite time of the year, so they'd delayed upon receiving his cremated remains. The plan had allowed the extended Cullen and Platt families to converge on Seattle. Jamie's friends from high school, the Academy, and even some of his squadron mates had come from all across the world to be at his remembrance ceremony, although to call it such was really a misnomer. It was to be a party, one Jamie would've been proud of. A fitting tribute to the boy who'd refused to grow up in many ways. Yes, there would be the speakers, the traditional casket covered with the flag, and Jamie's handsome picture in his dress blues smiling at them from beside it, but then there was to be a celebration of epic proportions. Their father, Carlisle, had rented an entire hotel to assure no one had to travel afterward.
While decorum was necessary, they would be celebrating Jamie in true Scots-Irish – true Cullen – fashion.
The only blight was that Major Swan had not been deemed medically fit to travel, or so the Air Force officer who would be speaking had informed them. It seemed the major had raised a fit to be released early in order to attend Jamie's funeral to no avail. Edward and his family had surmised the major had quite a temper from the way the Air Force official had flinched during the telling.
No matter, Edward, Emmett, and Jasper fully intended to meet Major Swan, to spend time with the person who'd been with Jamie in his final hours. What Major Swan could share with them, they weren't sure, but it was important to the Cullen brothers to show respect to Jamie's commanding officer.
The taps of drums and the eerie cry of the bagpipes brought Edward's mind back into focus. Jamie's funeral had turned into a spectacle with the city of Seattle "honoring" their fallen son. It didn't hurt that Carlisle's brothers and cousins were or had been firefighters in the city for generations, that Emmett was a major in the fire department, and that Jamie had served as a volunteer in his high school days and vacations from school. As such, Jamie was receiving the full due of a military and firefighter's funeral. Pulled by two black horses, the cart carrying Jamie's flag-draped coffin began its trip down Ninth Avenue behind the fire trucks and bagpipe/drum corp. For his final journey, Jamie was surrounded on three sides by the males of the large and extended Cullen family – kilts and all. It had been a long time since Edward had worn the tartan, but it felt good that he, his brothers, and father could tease each other about bony knees and cold balls – a favorite pastime of Jamie's. Their uncle, Aro, had won the unofficial competition for knobbiest knees. Although the old curmudgeon had given Emmett a middle finger salute for the distinction, it had been the inference Aro must be wearing flannels that had earned Emmett a slap to the back of the head. No self-respecting Cullen would wear anything under his kilt, even if an occasional snow-flake floated with the confetti already raining down on them.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
With the first notes of Amazing Grace from the pipes, the journey began.
The nave of the church was so crowded Edward doubted there was room to breathe. So many people had come to honor his brother and family. Beside him, his mother, Esme, lay her head against his father's shoulder. Further down the row, Emmett and Rosalie sat comforting their children, as did Jasper and Alice. While he could have felt left out, Edward took solace in the love of his family and friends. What surprised him was the multitude of uniforms present from other branches of service. Sure he'd known a fallen soldier was considered a loss for all, but for the men and women to come on such a wintry day, for this ceremony, had surprised him. Jamie would have enjoyed this. Not that he was being recognized, but that so many had come together for a celebration of life.
The priest stepped to the podium and began, the words rolling gently over Edward as he remembered his baby brother and reached over to take his mother's hand. The ceremony flowed with sweet stories and humor as those who'd been called on spoke. The man from the Air Force rose to conclude the service, but a gun-shot like bang at the back of the cathedral drew some flinches and everyone's attention. A low murmur of voices grew before the cause became apparent. A young woman, in the dress regalia of the Air Force, was being pushed forward in a wheelchair by a beast of a man. Native American, his long black hair fell down his back, his size only accentuating how tiny the woman was.
The stir her appearance caused was emphasized as several of the men scattered around the cathedral stood in salute.
Edward was mesmerized as she drew closer. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her dark brown hair twisted under her military issue hat, and the blue of her uniform highlighted the creaminess of her skin, making it appear like porcelain. The skirt ended at her knees, showcasing one leg wrapped in braces, the other ending – after what appeared miles of smooth flesh – in a flat blue slipper. Dark eyes stared ahead at Jamie's casket haunted by memories Edward wasn't sure he wanted to know.
The murmurs across the cathedral grew when the man who'd been sent by the Air Force hurried forward to meet the woman. He met her not far from where Edward stood, drawn by some force he couldn't explain.
"I don't care what they say," the woman spoke quietly in response to something the man had said. "I'm being honorably discharged, so what can they do?"
"Jake," she whispered, and the large man behind her nodded softly, pushing forward and almost running over the other man's toes.
"Major Swan," one of Jamie's flight brothers said with respect, drawing himself even taller into his salute. He'd taken a seat at the end of one of the pews behind the family.
"Lieutenant." She nodded, saluting back.
Major Swan? Major I. Swan?
Edward felt a fool, having assumed the major was a man. The woman's eyes met Edward's and the world stood still. Chocolate. They reminded him of chocolate. Deep, rich, swirling chocolate that would melt against his tongue, filling his mouth with flavor. He wanted to go to her, to push the large man away and knock aside the other military man who walked nervously beside her.
Edward's heart beat drum like against the wall of his chest. She was so tiny, so fragile. Broken, he thought, seeing the scars he'd overlooked at first. A line traced down the left side of her face from hairline to cheek. It had been stitched nicely, and with cosmetic surgery the scar would likely be smoothed, but it was a wound that could've caused death. Her thinness spoke of injury and weakness as clearly as the wheelchair and braces. Dark circles under her eyes bespoke nights of sleeplessness, origin unknown.
The doctor in Edward wanted to diagnose and heal. The man wanted to love and protect. Edward had never been hit with such conflicting and overwhelming emotions.
Major Swan's eyes never left him, even though she had to turn slightly as the Native American man brought her to stop in front of Jamie's coffin. He secured the wheelchair and went to reach for her, but she broke the connection with Edward and swatted at the man she'd called Jake.
What happened next would be forever imprinted into Edward's mind. Major Swan nudged the foot rests up, putting her hands on the arm rests. She pushed against them, and her arms wobbled from the strain. Edward willed her the energy to stand, praying her body wouldn't abandon her. A trickle of sweat beaded at her hairline before she managed to stand, her fellow service men and women doing so with her across the cathedral. Edward never thought to sit, remaining alongside those who had risen.
Reaching back, Major Swan waited for something from the man who had escorted her, and Edward notice the flash of gold on his left hand as he reached into the sack attached to the chair. A band released from around Edward's chest when he didn't notice a corresponding one on hers. From out of the bag, the man brought a white rose and a tattered hat. Edward swayed even as his mother gasped beside him. It was Jamie's, he was certain, the one he must have been wearing when he was shot down. The Native American man handed her the items along with a cane that hung from the back of the chair.
Moving at a snail's pace, Major Swan inched forward, the muscles of her face contorting with each step. Hunched over, she leaned heavily on the cane. After shuffling the last foot, she lay her fingertips against the red and white fabric covering the casket and closed her eyes. For a time, she remained in silent communion, tears rolling down her face before she laid the white rose across the flag. Edward grimaced as he saw her forcibly straighten, her body wobbling with the effort before she released the cane with her right hand, allowing it to rest against the coffin, and snapped to a salute. The noise of others doing the same within the cathedral was the only sound to disturb the moment.
Lips trembling, she turned slightly to locate Edward's parents, but the effort was too much, and she began to pitch forward. Edward lunged forward and caught her before her friend had a chance to move, holding her tiny form to his.
Their eyes met . . . and held.
Her husky voice sent shivers across his skin, bringing to mind images that were totally inappropriate to be having in front of his brother's coffin while being watched by a thousand eyes. He could only nod at her question.
Her face brightened with a smile, mischief floating in her eyes. "I'm Isabella. Bella. Jamie told me so much about you."
He didn't respond, his mouth too dry to speak.
"I have something that he wanted me to make sure your mother received."
The hat hung limply from her hand, and Edward's keen medical eye and intuition recognized that she'd used every ounce of energy pulling herself up to salute Jamie. Without thought, he bent and put his arms under her, cradling her to him and stepping over to Carlisle and Esme.
Unlike the resistance she'd shown to receiving help from the others, Bella leaned loosely against his chest, her eyes watching him until they stood before his parents.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cullen, Jamie made me promise to get this to you," she said, weakly lifting the hat.
His mother reached for Bella's hand, squeezing her fingers gently. Silent sobs wracked Edward's mother, his father supporting her as tears coursed his face.
"You must speak." Carlisle said, nodding toward the altar.
They'd known that Major Swan had wanted to be there, had wanted to give a eulogy, but fate had not allowed it. That she was here now could only be a miracle.
Edward felt her tremble and realized she mostly likely couldn't stand. Looking to the chair and the arched brows of her friend, he couldn't fathom letting go of her or confining her to the metal after her show of strength. Still holding her, he took the steps to the altar, catching the pleased look in the Native American man's eyes.
"What are you doing?" Bella whispered, her arms going around Edward's neck.
He smiled, gleefully when he heard her catch her breath. A second later, the microphone had been turned sideways, and Edward shifted the tiny woman in his arms, nodding toward the electronic device. "Tell them what you came to say," he said softly.
"I forgot my speech when I had to sneak out." A blush stained her cheeks.
"Then speak from your heart."
Bella's eye widened before Edward saw the steel reserve inside her take control. Here was Major Swan, leader of a group and men and women who'd no doubt seen more horror than Edward could imagine. She appeared to draw from that strength, and those who had stood sat as Bella collected her thoughts. Edward didn't imagine she'd last long, her honoring of Jamie taking its toll.
"We are here today to celebrate the life of Jamie Cullen."
She grinned as a shout of joy went up from all over, men and women pounding their feet on the floor in agreement. The noise was thunderous, filling the room with energy.
Laughter shook Bella's frail body. "Jamie was a rascal."
Emmett hooted on that one, sending out a "Preach it, sister."
"He was a daredevil."
Edward's mother's face cracked, a large smile smoothing her grief-stricken features as Carlisle hugged her.
"He was a man."
Jasper snickered even as Edward stiffened. Bella glanced up to Edward softly shaking her head. He relaxed only when she winked at him.
"But most of all, he was my friend and an airman."
Chants of "Huh, huh, huh, huh" resounded at her words.
"I'd never met a cockier son of a . . ." she paused, looking over to the priest as another delicate blush graced her cheeks " . . . gun in my life."
The priest's lips twitched. Edward grinned, as well. That was his brother Jamie. Assured of his place in life.
"But what I quickly learned, as I helped smooth some of those edges . . ." laughter broke out " . . . was that he was a man with a heart of gold." Bella looked to Carlisle and Esme. "He loved his family with a grace beyond compare. He loved his job like a crazy person, and he loved his country and the ideals under which he served."
The atmosphere had grown quiet. Not silent – not somber –as if it was the lull before the explosion.
"Much of what I knew about Jamie I can never share, not because of any need for secrecy, but because it would be difficult honor such a man with mere words. I spent months in hell with him. Months in which we shared our lives with one another in hopes that if one of us survived, we would remember, and by doing so become a part of each other. Jamie would say I saved his life, but I would disagree. He saved mine."
Bella's eyes darkened, making Edward freeze in fear of what had happened. Her limbs stiffened slightly before she took a deep breath in a way Edward recognized as a coached relaxation technique.
"Honor does not call for you to be the cockiest. It does not call for you to be the strongest. If wise, it feeds on fear, because fear is sometimes all you have left. Sometimes, honor is when all you can do is hold someone's hand."
Tears began rolling down her face, her breath becoming labored.
"It isn't about being the best man or woman. It is about being the best man or woman you can be with what you have."
Major Swan rested for a moment then attempted to speak several times only to stop. Edward was ready to step down, to give her a break, but something inside him told him to stay put. Weakness was not something Isabella "Bella" Swan appeared to entertain.
"There is no way to truly capture the essence of a man like Jamie. In conclusion, I guess there is only one thing to say that would honor him." Her voice had grown tired, and she lay in Edward's arms as fragile as a china doll. A gentle smile curved her lips before she weakly shouted, "Aim High!"
Pandemonium echoed through the cathedral as service men and women rose, shouts of "Ooh Rah!" and "Hoorah!" joining her battle cry. Firefighters from across the city stood, adding their company's chants, and even the police officers shouted out words that Edward couldn't decipher. His family had joined the revelers, chanting God only knows what. The sounds bounced along the high ceilings and walls, merging into a melody that gave life to the human spirit and banished the grief that had tried to destroy them.
This spirit, this human spirit, was something no evil could ever defeat.
Aim High, Edward thought, ignoring everyone and everything to satisfy his soul's craving. He leaned down to connect his lips to the woman's in his arms. Reality froze him just before they connected, fearful of the dark shadows he'd seen and what they could mean.
Bella gasped. Eyes wide, a glimmer of hope shimmering there, she brought her fingertips to Edward's lips, connecting them.
Jamie, did you know what you were doing? Edward wondered then smirked against Bella's fingers as he found the answer.
Aim High indeed.
AN – I originally wrote this as a true one-shot. Not really sure if there is any interest in it continuing, so I'll guess I'll let any reviews give me guidance.